While the most serious problem associated with misuse of antibiotics is the evolution of bacterial resistance to those drugs, I’ve noted before that another problem with antibiotic misuse is that antibiotics can have serious side effects. Jane Brody describes how fluoroquinolones, which include ciprofloxacin (‘Cipro’), can have devastating side effects:
In addition to being unable to walk uphill, climb stairs or see clearly, his symptoms included dry eyes, mouth and skin; ringing in his ears; delayed urination; uncontrollable shaking; burning pain in his eyes and feet; occasional tingling in his hands and feet; heart palpitations; and muscle spasms in his back and around his eyes. Though Mr. Balch’s reaction is unusual, doctors who have studied the side effects of fluoroquinolones say others have suffered similar symptoms.
Three and a half months after he took that second pill, these symptoms persist, and none of the many doctors of different specialties he has consulted has been able to help. Mr. Balch is now working with a physical therapist, but in a phone consultation with Dr. David Flockhart, an expert in fluoroquinolone side effects at the Indiana University School of Medicine, he was told it could take a year for his symptoms to resolve, if they ever do disappear completely.
Guidelines by the American Thoracic Society state that fluoroquinolones should not be used as a first-line treatment for community-acquired pneumonia; it recommends that doxycycline or a macrolide be tried first. Mr. Balch didn’t know this, or he might have fought harder to get a different antibiotic.
Adverse reactions to fluoroquinolones may occur almost anywhere in the body. In addition to occasional unwanted effects on the musculoskeletal, visual and renal systems, the drugs in rare cases can seriously injure the central nervous system (causing “brain fog,” depression, hallucinations and psychotic reactions), the heart, liver, skin (painful, disfiguring rashes and phototoxicity), the gastrointestinal system (nausea and diarrhea), hearing and blood sugar metabolism.
People seem to think these drugs are magic. Not always.